May 18, 2017
Women Get a Bigger Social Security Bump
The magic number is 35.
That’s how many years of earnings the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to calculate every worker’s pension benefit. But 35 years can be a tall order for the many boomer women who took time off or cut back on their hours to raise their children. Nearly half of 62-year-old working women today didn’t make any money for at least one year in their earnings history on record with SSA.
But this also means they have more to gain financially than men from working longer, because each additional year of work substitutes for a zero- or low-earning year during motherhood in the benefit calculation, according to research by Matt Rutledge and John Lindner at the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.
Beefing up one’s earnings record is actually one of the two ways that working longer raises monthly benefits. The other, more familiar way is a benefit increase from delaying collecting Social Security.
Delaying claiming compresses the time period over which workers will receive benefits. The resulting increase when they finally do start is known as Social Security’s “actuarial adjustment.” Take the most extreme example: both men and women who begin their Social Security at age 70 receive 76 percent more per month from this adjustment than they would’ve gotten had they started at 62.
But it is women who generally gain much more from additional years in the labor force.
By working to 70, rather than retiring at 62, the average woman can increase her monthly Social Security check by 12 percent, the researchers found. Adding this to the standard actuarial adjustment produces an 88-percent increase, from roughly $1,112 per month at 62 to $2,090 at age 70.
The earnings bump that 62-year-old men get from working to 70 is half as big – about 6 percent – because men typically already have had more years of higher earnings during their working lives.
A woman doesn’t have to work all the way to 70 either to benefit. Any period of delay will increase monthly benefits – and that will help. …Learn More
May 9, 2017
Retirement Ball’s in Employers’ Court
If employers want to improve the poor retirement prognosis for a large chunk of American workers, there are some obvious things they could do.
That’s the big takeaway in Morningstar Inc.’s new report on employers that offer 401(k) plans to their employees but don’t do what’s required to encourage them to save enough.
During the early 2000s, automatic enrollment to increase participation in employer 401(k)s became all the rage, and the strategy has proved itself. Today, nearly 90 percent of automatically enrolled employees stay where they are put, while only about half of workers sign up to save when 401(k) enrollment is strictly voluntary.
But the auto enrollment trend has stalled, and the crazy-quilt private-sector retirement system still has a lot of holes in it. Even when companies automatically enroll their workers, the plans are often designed in ways that discourage them from saving enough, Morningstar’s David Blanchett, head of retirement research, concludes in his report.
“Too often the focus among plan sponsors is improving [401(k)] participation,” he writes. The plans themselves have left us “with low and inadequate savings rates that threaten the retirement security of many Americans.”
At least there’s something to be improved upon: many private-sector employers don’t even offer retirement plans, particularly in industries when people earn low-incomes or work for small companies.
Blanchett’s critique of plans already in place rightly leans on groundbreaking academic research a decade ago that tested 401(k) plan design to determine what drives employee participation in the plans and drives how much they’ll agree to save.
Take plans with auto-enrollment. His analysis of T. Rowe Price and Vanguard client data found that 3 percent of salary remains the most popular savings rate that employers default their workers into during automatic enrollment in the plan – but 3 percent is widely viewed as inadequate if a worker wants to have enough money to retire on.
Why so low, Blanchett asks, when people might accept more? …Learn More
April 27, 2017
Gay Marriage: Income Gains Quantified
The U.S. Social Security Administration states on its website that it “is no longer prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages for the purpose of determining entitlement to or eligibility for benefits.”
Numerous disadvantages faced historically by the nation’s 800,000 same-sex partners are falling away in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage – access to Social Security’s benefits for a worker’s same-sex spouse or widow is just one. The financial gains from legalized marriage should also increase substantially over time, as more gays and lesbians are drawn out of cohabitation and into married relationships.
A new study, by Urban Institute researchers Karen E. Smith, Stephen Rose, and Damir Cosic, estimates that by 2065 same-sex couples 62 and older with low or mid-range earnings will have about $4,000 in additional net cash income every year. This includes earnings, Social Security and pension benefits, and investment income minus taxes, Medicare premiums and other government levies.
The $4,000 estimate per couple is based on the institute’s population model that simulates multiple financial impacts on U.S. households to arrive at the overall effect. It also takes into account that same-sex married couples will be better able to pool their resources in the future, share employer health benefits, buy a house, and withstand a spouse’s layoff.
A key benefit for older same-sex married couples is access to Social Security spousal and survivor benefits, which were unavailable before the law change. Social Security is especially significant if the spouses have sharply different earnings levels – just as they are to married heterosexual couples in which one spouse, usually the wife, has lower earnings and is eligible for a higher benefit based on her husband’s work history instead of her own. …Learn More
April 20, 2017
A Californian’s ‘Retirement’ is Part-Time
Rob Peters during a trip East last summer.
Rob Peters’ approach to retiring wasn’t much different from hitting the road in 1975 to help drive a college friend from New York to California. He didn’t really know where he was going.
When he first laid eyes on California, he was captivated by its beauty, as well as the left-leaning politics absent in the conservative Long Island community he grew up in. But Peters, equipped only with an English degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, bounced around for years among the various part-time and full-time counseling jobs available to him in his new paradise.
Not until age 38, after earning a master’s degree in counseling and 13 job interviews, did he land his dream job at Diablo Valley College, a community college serving mostly low-income and minority students. He stayed more than 26 years, as a student adviser, program facilitator, and instructor.
He took a blind leap into retirement, too. Again, finding his place was a process. Within four months of retiring, at the end of 2014, he contacted Diablo Valley College. Yes, they would welcome him back as a counselor for four hours in the morning, two days per week in the spring and three days in the fall.
He returned in June 2015 and again enjoys “the acknowledgment that your work is valuable,” said Peters, 65, who lives with his wife, Suzanne James-Peters, in their home in Benicia with a view of the Carquinez Strait that lies east of San Francisco.
A new body of research indicates that continuing to work but gearing down to a lower-intensity job is often good for older Americans, because it reduces their stress, increases their job satisfaction, and is an encouragement to continue working and preparing financially for retirement.
It’s not all that surprising that Peters “un-retired,” considering how much and how long (10 years) he’d wrestled with the retirement decision.
Yes, the technological demands of working full time became harder to keep up with, the demands of being an older parent with teenage twins (a girl and a boy) consumed him, and coworkers his age were peeling off. However, he was constantly torn about letting go of a job just when he felt that, as an older counselor, he had even more to give students. As a decision loomed, he attended yet another retirement seminar. “I began to anticipate that leaving [academia] would take some adjustment.”
He retired reluctantly and weeded out his file cabinet full of work materials even more reluctantly. …Learn More
April 6, 2017
Retirees Don’t Touch Home Equity
Remarkably, middle-class Americans have at least as much money tied up in their homes as they have in all their retirement plans, bank accounts, and other financial assets combined.
A hefty share of older U.S. homeowners are even better off: 41 percent between ages 65-74, and 63 percent over 74, have paid off their mortgages and own their homes free and clear.
But only one in five retirees would be willing to use their home equity to generate income in a new survey by the National Council on Aging (NCOA). This reluctance seems to be on a collision course with financial reality for working baby boomers, when so many are at risk that they won’t be able to maintain their living standards when they retire.
Retirees can get at their home equity to improve their finances a couple of ways. One is to sell, say, the three-bedroom family home on Long Island for a pretty penny and buy a condo on Long Island or a cheaper house in Florida. Yet only a tiny sliver of older Americans actually downsize to reduce their living expenses, according to a new report by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, “Is Home Equity an Underutilized Retirement Asset?”
Another avenue is available to people over 62 who don’t want to move: a reverse mortgage. While these loans against home equity are not for everybody, they’re one option if retirees want to pay off the original mortgage or withdraw funds when they’re needed. But only about 58,000 homeowners took out federally insured Home Equity Conversation Mortgage (HECMs) in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The NCOA’s survey, which was funded by Reverse Mortgage Funding, a lender, uncovered one reason for the lack of interest: retirees are not clear about how reverse mortgages work and how they differ from a standard home equity line of credit. …Learn More
March 30, 2017
Older Workers’ Job Changes a Step Down
When older workers change occupations, many of them move into a lower-status version of the work they’ve done for years, according to a new study by University of Michigan researchers who tracked the workers’ movements among some 200 different occupations.
Aging computer scientists were likely to become programmers or computer support staff. And veteran high school teachers started tutoring, financial managers transitioned to bookkeepers, and office supervisors became secretaries.
Late-career transitions need to be put into some context: a majority of Americans who were still working in their 60s were in the same occupations they held at age 55, the study found. And these occupations ran the gamut from clergy to life scientists to cooks.
Interestingly, while teachers, thanks to their defined benefit pensions, often retire relatively young, primary and high school teachers were also at the top of the list of older workers who have remained in one occupation into their 60s, along with radiology technicians and bus drivers.
But about 40 percent of Americans who were still working when they turned 62 had moved to a new occupation sometime after age 55, according to the researchers, who tracked individual workers’ employment changes using the federal government’s coding system. …Learn More
March 28, 2017
Black America’s New Retirement Issue
The retirement issues facing black Americans can’t necessarily be lumped together for many reasons – there are high- and low-income blacks, and there are recent immigrants as well as longstanding families. A similar problem arises when treating the U.S. Hispanic-American population or the Asian-American population as a homogenous group.
Having acknowledged this, however, some recent studies have highlighted the financial challenges particular to each group. For Hispanic-Americans, a major issue is that they live a long time but have low participation in employer retirement plans. For Asian-Americans, extremely high wealth inequality in their working population spills over into retirement inequality.
This blog looks at the recent erosion in homeownership among black Americans since 2000, which threatens to further undermine their retirement security – Generation X is most at risk.
Black workers’ relatively low incomes are probably the first challenge of saving for retirement. In 2015, the typical black family earned $36,898, substantially less than the $63,000 earned by white families, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Not surprisingly, their participation in employer retirement plans was also lower in a 2009 study, even though white and black Americans have roughly similar access to 401(k) plans through their employers. More than 77 percent of whites with this option save in a 401(k), and only 70 percent of blacks do.
Homeownership is also crucial to building wealth for retirement: the largest asset most older Americans possess is their house. This asset can translate into additional disposable income if the mortgage is paid off. Retirees can also downsize to a smaller home or take out a reverse mortgage loan that doesn’t have to be repaid until the homeowner moves out or dies.
The problem for black Americans is that homeownership is going in the wrong direction. …